The Great Debate: “Opposites attract” vs. “Birds of a feather flock together”

Written by on May 28, 2012 in Relationships - No comments | Print this page


Admit it.  You’ve seen unlikely couples and secretly (or not so secretly) formed the judgment of how in the world did they ever get together?  As if to justify her relationship, your friend has said to you that that her new boyfriend complements her and that “opposites attract.”  Or does it?

Time and time again, research has shown that people tend to associate with others who are similar to themselves.  Some of the demographics that we consider are age, religion, education, level of intelligence, and race.   Demographics aside, core values tether all types of different relationships together, from friendship to a romantic relationship.

The psychologist Donn Byrne has researched that concept thoroughly in laboratory studies that span a career.  He found that participants would like another person more than the rest of the group when his/her attitude was more similar to their own.  He saw this in married couples as well.  It turns out that birds of a feather not only flock together, but stay together as well.

Are we that narcissistic that we like those who are just like us?  Maybe.  Perhaps you partner is not a carbon copy of you, but most likely he/she is more similar to you than not.   This goes back to sharing the same core values and attitudes.   Your boyfriend/girlfriend is a significant reflection of who you are.  Same thing goes with the circle of friends you keep close to you.  They are each small reflections of you.

As mentioned in the beginning, many of us have had at least one encounter where we are thinking in our heads that a couple does not match in terms of looks.  We have all thought that at one point or another in our lives.

What you are thinking of is Feingold’s matching hypothesis—the idea that people tend to become involved romantically with others who are equivalent in their physical attractiveness.  Some people shy away from others who are “out of their league,” or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, think “I can do better than her.”

Just give it a go even if you do think she is out of your league.  Many women agree that physical attributes are less important to them than to men.  As for the latter, what is “better?”   We are assessing ourselves when we assess others as equal or not equal.  Are we assessing ourselves too highly? Not highly enough?  You might miss out on a potential love of your life if you become too critical of them for something that will eventually fade out with age.


About the Author

M. Yu

M. Yu is a single, working professional who lives in New York City. She has eclectic interests, ranging from cancer research (her day job) to traveling to writing for the Relationship Category on QLR. She has an active dating life and views every life experience as a learning lesson. View all posts about healthy relationships.